“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” –Martin Luther King
Many would argue that the defining factor of success and failure in our field is being able to hold human rights violators accountable in court. We want to believe that if we are right, we will win. In reality, winning isn’t easy when the playing field is skewed in favor of the already powerful. Time and time again we see very just causes and campaigns blocked by being out-financed and out-voiced in the courtroom and media.
We live in a system where power influences power, and the under-represented are at a severe disadvantage. The biggest economic and political powers are profiting and competing at the expense of people’s well-being.
How do we adjust the law to serve the needs of human rights and people while overcoming a system that oppresses the already weak and caters to the strong? How do we disrupt the self-feeding system of power when we don’t have the resources or influence to demand respect? How can we make our demands heard?
The people have to organize.
Sometimes it seems like famous leaders like Martin Luther King made the world a better place. Though their role was crucial, nothing can be achieved without the dedicated people who support those leaders and the struggle for justice. Change relies on the combination of legal action and social organization. Fixing systemic problems is not easy—it takes a dedicated group of good-hearted lawyers, campaigners, and activists to make the world a more just place.
When the actors that oppress and violate human rights are the ones who also influence law, the people are the ones to suffer. And the battle is then magnified to not only seek justice for a crime, but to remake a more equal system of law. Greater organization is required to meet this conflict. We need attorneys, researchers, and campaigners to gain support for their story.
When we come together in a single, unified stance, we multiply our power and make our voice heard. What is important is that the more people that join, the louder we can demand respect for rights.
For International Justice Day, join us in our struggle. Learn how people all around the world are standing up for their rights—from lawyers in the U.S. to activists in Cambodia to famers and fisherpeople in Laos—communities around the world are defending their rights.
Here’s some to get you started
Millions of people in the Mekong River Region are at risk of losing their livelihoods, as more and more hydroelectric dams are being built. The Don Sahong Dam, a project being built by the Malaysian Corporation Mega First, in Laos (two kilometers from the Cambodian border), is one of these project endangering local communities. The dam will impact the migration of fish that are now abundant, the flow of sediment that currently fertilizes the crops, and the habitat of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that support the local tourist economy, therefor threatenin the life and livelihoods of Mekong River communities.
Oudom received his Masters of Art and Sociology from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, where he studied on a scholarship. His thesis research on access to education for indigenous people led him to a research position in the Koh Kong province, where he quickly became disillusioned by the human rights abuses committed in the name of development.
Kyaw Win and his family refused to leave when JICA and the Myanmar Government offered inadequate compensation and substandard housing at the relocation site to make way for Myanmar’s first Special Economic Zone. He is the last man standing as bulldozers inch closer and closer each day.